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The Mighty Murray River - Introduction - by Neil Slater

Winding it's way down from the Victorian and New South Wales highlands, the Murray River has been the core of many legends and the inspiration of artist's brushes throughout Australia's history. The Mighty Murray also has a lot to offer the travelling angler!
From trout rich, gin-clear streams that stretch some 200 miles upstream of Albury to its entrance to the southern ocean 1400 miles downstream near Goolwa where monster 50 lb jew fish patrol it's estuary.

Beautiful Lake Dartmouth nestled in the Victorian high country is the result of one of the largest earth-rock dams in the southern hemisphere. The dam across the Mitta Mitta River (a river contributing to the upper reaches of the Murray) is over 300 feet high! The lake contains a good population of self-supporting brown trout, carp and Macquarie perch. The pub has great meals, a warm open fire and the town has decent accommodation. Camping is also permitted in certain sections around the lake weather permitting. Lake Dartmouth

Dry Facts about Australia's greatest river
The Murray River basin is about one seventh the total area of Australia - and it is DRY to put it bluntly.

So dry, some locals say the only way to see a school of fish coming is by the dust they raise! (Only joking)
The Murray-Darling basin comprises of nearly three quarters of New South Wales, over half of Victoria, a chunk of Queensland larger than the state of Victoria and a portion of South Australia. Its average yearly rainfall is approximately 17 inches as compared with 50 inches in the Tennessee Valley, USA.
Two thirds of this basin contributes no water to the rivers flow and the catchment upstream from Albury, which equates to only 2% of its total area, supplies more than one quarter of its flow.

The Rivers Health
Fishing in the Murray River is not as good as yesteryear, with irrigation, the introduction of noxious species (namely European carp), weirs and snag removal, overfishing and generally poor river management responsible for its continual decline over the years.
But recent times have seen a slight improvement due to community awareness of the rivers plight and steps have been taken to help with its survival as a healthy ecosystem.

The Fish of the upper reaches
At its headwaters, the Murray River is a network of gin clear tributaries containing good stocks of self-sustaining brown, and to a lesser extent, rainbow trout. The overhanging native trees and shrubs, which line the banks of the Murray's headwaters, harbour all manner of insect life that make tasty offerings for the local trout population.
The river runs into the first of its weirs near Albury at Lake Hume. These fish are of healthy size up to 5 pounds with an average size ranging from one to two pounds that eagerly inhale a dry fly and well presented lure or drifted bait.

These fish posses beautiful markings with many bright red spots more often found on true 'wild' brown trout. Some of the tributaries of the Murray River are a fly fishers dream. Many of these small arterials can be successfully waded for miles yielding many small but feisty trout.
During summer, the local trout gorge themselves on the masses of grasshoppers that blunder into the river and some truly spectacular dry fly fishing can draw anglers for miles. Beetle hatches can occur during a warm day and a red tag is always a good 'prospecting' fly as is the many local gum beetle imitations.

Tackle need not be too heavy as many of the casts are close and some require the utmost in delicate presentation. Ideal fly gear for the area is a 6 weight for your average highland river down to a 4 weight for the smaller streams. Fly leaders should be at least 10ft for the more wary browns in the smaller streams and tippets from 4 to 6 lbs.

A feisty little resident of the upper Murray River slashes at a well presented grasshopper imitation on a warm summers day.

Ultra-light spin-fisherman also take their fair share of fish. Best hard-bodied artificials include small revolving-blade lures such as Celtas and Jensen Insects and minnow or baitfish imitations similar to the Rapala 3 -5 cm range.
Spin gear should consist of a 6 to 7-foot rod with an ultra-light to light action coupled with 6 lb line. Most of the locals preferring 4 lb line coupled with a nice ultra-light rod and quality fixed-spool 'eggbeater' reel to cast those small celtas.

Live Bait Drifting
Drifting live bait is another very effective method of fooling the local trout population. This method is generally more appealing to the average angler out to catch a trout for dinner. This involves the use of a fat scrub worm, cricket, grasshopper or wood grub and little or no weight on relatively light tackle.
The bait is flicked upstream of a likely fish lie and allowed to drift down with the current. Generally, the amount of weight used is dictated by whether the bait is terrestrial or aquatic, depth of the river, speed of the current and the depth the bait needs to be presented. Rods used for this method are best kept ultra-light and a decent length of around 7 to 9 ft for casting super-light offerings moderate distances.

Reels should be small 'eggbeaters' and include a 'long-cast' spool for that extra distance and control needed to avoid overhanging branches and land accurately. Best line for the task is an abrasion resistant 4 lb monofilament line. This type of line helps avoid cut offs caused by the many underwater boulders but still offer a natural drift.

Keen trout angler, Paul Close eases a lure caught brown trout to the bank for a quick photo prior to release. Small fish like these are abundant and relatively easily caught in the upper reaches of the Murray River.

Plenty to do apart from the great fishing
The upper reaches of the Murray River offer a plethora of opportunities for the bird watcher with many native parrots, birds of prey and others. For photographers, the scenery can be breathtaking as the early morning sun dawns over the nearby peaks and spreads into the valley where wine-lovers are preparing for another days tastings.
There are many guides (for all hobbies, not just fishing), trailer parks, national parks with camping facilities, hotels, small towns and magnificent golf courses dotting along the entire length of the Murray River.
Well worth a visit!

Neil Slater

Related Links:
The Mighty Murray River Part 2 - The Main Arterial
Lake Hume Information
Lake Dartmouth Information
Water Level Link Goulburn Murray Water
Water Level Link Water Info NSW
Rules Regarding Rec Fishing at Lake Hume & Mulwala
Purchase Victoria Fishing Licence Online

The Upper Murray River Region Map

Copyright© 2004 Neil Slater. Sweetwater Fishing Australia